In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had 13 ships and 3000 personnel. During the war, the RCN expanded to a peak strength for 350 ships and over 90,000 personnel and was, by the end of the war, the third-largest allied navy, after the United States Navy and the Royal Navy.
But that expansion from a small fleet of barely over a dozen vessels to the third largest allied navy was not a simple matter of building ships. The needs of all the Allied navies in the first years of the war overwhelmed the ship-building industry and alternatives were necessary. As a result of this need, Britain arranged the Lend-Lease Agreement with the United States. Among the items acquired under the Lend-Lease were 50 First World War era destroyers — the four-stackers. Of these, seven would serve with the Royal Canadian Navy.
The USN built 237 of these four-stack destroyers as the First World War was drawing to and end, intending to operate them as fleet destroyers, their role to attack the enemy from behind a protective smokescreen as part of encounters between main battle fleets. But battles like Jutland were, like the four-stackers, of an earlier era, and the destroyers were less well suited to operating on escort duties in the North Atlantic. But they, and the RCN persevered as they waited for newly constructed vessels to replace them.
The RCN Four-Stackers
The RCN Four-Stackers were part of the newly designated Town-class destroyers. They joined the RCN at a time when the Nacvy was to face its greatest challenge, the Battle of the Atlantic.
HMCS Annapolis (I-04) — (ex-USS MacKenzie (DD-175))
HMCS Annapolis sailed with the Halifax and Western Local Escort Forces escorting convoys from Newfoundland, to New York. In April 1944, she was attached to HMCS Cornwallis, as a training ship until the end of the war. On 4 June 1945, she was turned over for scrapping.
HMCS Columbia (I-49) — (ex-USS Haraden (DD-183)
Columbia was assigned to Atlantic convoy duties. Columbia escorted convoys and performed anti-submarine patrols until 25 February 1944, when she struck a cliff in foul weather off the coast of Newfoundland. She was not fully repaired after the accident but used as a fuel and ammunition hulk in Nova Scotia until sold for scrapping at the end of the war.
HMCS Niagara (I-57) — (ex-USS Thatcher (DD-162)
HMCS Niagara departed Halifax on 30 November 1940 for the British Isles to join the 4th Escort Group, Western Approaches Command, based in Scotland. Later transferred to the Newfoundland Escort Force, Niagara conducted convoy escort duties into the summer of 1941 and took part in the capture of U-570, providing the prize crew and towing the submarine to port in Iceland. Niagara became a torpedo-firing ship in the spring of 1945 for the training of torpedomen. Decommissioned in September 1945, she was later broken up for scrap.
HMCS St. Clair (I-65) — (ex-USS Williams (DD-108)
HMCS St. Clair sailed for the British Isles on 30 November to join the Clyde Escort force, where she escorted convoys in and out of the western approaches to the British Isles. Late in May 1941, she became involved in the operations to destroy the German battleship Bismarck. St. Clair, near the battle area, came under attack and shot down one, possibly two, enemy planes. St. Clair joined the Newfoundland Escort Force in June 1941 for convoy escort duty to Iceland until the end of 1941. Reassigned to the Western Local Escort Force in early 1942, St. Clair operated out of Halifax over the next two years, escorting coastal convoys until withdrawn from this service in 1943. St. Clair then operated as a submarine depot ship at Halifax until August 1944, after which she was used as a fire-fighting and damage control hulk until 1946. She was sent for disposal on 6 October 1946, and subsequently broken up for scrap.
HMCS St. Croix (I-81) — (ex-USS McCook (DD-252)
HMCS St. Croix conducted escort and patrol duties in Canadian waters, joining the Newfoundland Escort Force in August 1941 for escort duties between Newfoundland and Iceland. St. Croix sank U-90 on 24 July 1942, which, with other U-boats, had attacked her convoy (ON 113) on the 23rd, sinking two merchantmen and damaging a third. On 4 March 1943 with Convoy KMS 10, she assisted HMCS Shediac (K100) in sinking U-87 off the Iberian coast.
On 16 September, St. Croix, on patrol with an offensive striking group in the Bay of Biscay, went to the aid of convoys ONS 18 and ON 202, both under attack a wolfpack. In the battle defending these convoys St. Croix was the first of three escorts to be sunk, being torpedoed on the 29th of September. The next morning, HMS Itchen picked up 81 survivors from St. Croix. The following day, 22 September, Itchen herself was torpedoed. Three men were rescued, two from Itchen, and one from St. Croix. St. Croix had escorted 28 convoys before her sinking.
HMCS St. Francis (I-04) — (ex-USS Bancroft (DD-256)
HMCS St. Francis left Halifax 15 January 1941 for Scotland to join the 4th Escort Group. On 20 May she rescued all the survivors of the steamship Starcrose which had to be sunk after being torpedoed. At the end of June that year she escorted a troop convoy to the Middle East after which she joined the Newfoundland Escort Force. Between 1941 and 1943 St. Francis sailed as escort to 20 convoys and engaged the enemy on five occasions.
After refitting at Halifax, St. Francis joined Escort Group C.2 in the Western Approaches Command in June 1943 but that August was transferred to the 9th Escort Group (RCN), working from Northern Ireland. She returned to Halifax the following month. From early 1944 she was employed on training duties at Digby, Nova Scotia, and there, on 1 April 1945, was declared surplus. While on her way to Baltimore to be scrapped in July 1945, she sank as a result of a collision off Cape Cod.
HMCS Hamilton (I-04) — (ex-USS Kalk (DD-170), ex-RN HMS Hamilton)
HMCS Hamilton remained in North American waters escorting convoys from St. John's to New York. On 2 August 1942, she engaged a German U-boat and prevented its attack on the convoy. Declared unfit for operations, she became a tender to HMCS Cornwallis at Annapolis, Nova Scotia in August 1943. Decommissioned 8 June, 1945, at Sydney, Nova Scotia, from which she departed to be scrapped but was lost while being towed to Boston.
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